Grand Seiko SBGV009 & SBGV011
Today I have the pleasure of examining two new limited edition Grand Seikos for 2014. These are definitely the dressiest watches coming out of Grand Seiko this year and they are absolutely stunning. They also tie into Seiko's long and illustrious history perhaps better than any model in their current lineup.
We're looking at the SBGV009 and SBGV011 today--the silver dial is the 009 and the black dial is the 011. These two watches are an homage to the first Grand Seiko with a date, the aptly named 1964 Self-Dater.
A great deal of the classic styling of the original has been preserved--the basic dimensions, the ultra-spartan dial, and most importantly, that very distinctive case.
Here's a shot of the original 1964 Selfdater--and you can see just how close the new and old versions are to one another. The hands, hour markers and case are virtually identical. But in a decision sure to please American Grand Seiko collectors, the 2014 model has about half the writing on the dial as the original. And although the 2014 model lacks the chronometer writing, it is exponentially more accurate.The Face
Grand Seikos haven't changed much over the years, so don't be too surprised that this watch doesn't look especially retro or vintage--from day 1, Grand Seiko was very concerned with making a "watch for life" and therefore the styling decisions were chosen to avoid the trendy and embrace the enduring--thus, even though this design is exactly 50 years old, it doesn't look it.
Both dials feature the gorgeous Sunburst finish that is so closely associated with Grand Seikos. What you may not know, however, is that the 1964 Self-Dater was actually the first Seiko to debut the famous dialwork that we now find synonymous with the brand. Yes, although it's hard to believe, there was a time when you couldn't buy a Grand Seiko with a sunburst finish--but 1964 changed all that.
In a very real sense, then, the 1964 Selfdater is actually the Grand Seiko that inspired almost all currently Grand Seikos. The presence of a date and a sunburst finish is now on the vast majority of models, and it can all be traced back to that watch.
Of course, some sunburst finishes are more subtle than others--take this SBGV011 for instance. It's a sunburst dial alright, but only when the light hits it just so--and when it does, it breaks into a very fine and beautiful dark brown color.
The sunburst on the 009, however, is anything but subtle--it's omnipresent in any light and quite impressive. Everyone loves to talk about how dynamic Grand Seiko dials are and this is one of the best examples of that.
The hour markers are shorter and fatter than on most modern Grand Seikos. That might not at first sound uniquely appealing, but the larger flat surface on top allows them to really show off their polishing--that absolutely perfectly smooth mirror finish that you associate with their dauphine hands is as visible as ever on the hour markers.
The hands are...the same as pretty much every other Grand Seiko. That's not because Seiko was lazy in their homage, it's because the hands haven't changed much in 50 years. And, at any rate, Grand Seiko's hands are easily among the best in the industry at any price--the finishing on them is absolutely flawless. In the 011, seen above, the hands have a brushed finish which helps to distinguish them from the dial--this is par for the course with dark colored Grand Seikos.
The hands on the 009, are, of course, fully polished. The hands cannot be adequately described in words or photos--you have to see them for yourself. To that end, we've made videos of both of these at the bottom, and they will do the hands more justice than the review ever could. Suffice to say, they are works of art in their own right.
Another beautiful and old school feature is the enormous box sapphire on both watches. It brings to mind the thick crystals of the past, but with modern scratch resistant sapphire. Naturally, an anti-reflective coating is applied only to the inside, or otherwise the protruding crystal would be a scratch magnet.
Of course, I can't review the Self-Dater without talking about the date window. In a fashion now typical of Grand Seiko, a frame is applied around the window to draw your attention to the date, but without unnecessarily disrupting the balance of the dial. The date is surprisingly large for such a small watch, and changes over at midnight, all at once, in just 1/2000th of a second.
The only significant change in the dial, or really the appearance of the watch in general, from 1964 is the lack of writing--the original told us the number of jewels it had and that it was a chronometer. Being a high-end quartz movement, neither of those designations are especially important these days and Grand Seiko wisely chose not to include them here, which makes the watches properly dressy.
The distinctive 37mm case is perhaps the other element most associated with the original model--the lugs are noticeably different than contemporary Grand Seikos. Whereas the dial and date of a current Grand Seiko largely owe the 1964 Self-Dater for their design, the contemporary Grand Seiko is primarily indebted to the 1966 models for the case. Thus, it is the case, more than any other element of the SBGV009 or SBGV011, that modern owners will find remarkable, because it's really the only element that substantially deviates from current day Grand Seiko design.
The most obvious difference between the lugs of the 1964 and those of most other Grand Seikos, is that the Self-Dater's are much more squared off. The edges are nicely beveled and just look and feel much "softer" than the more angular and sporty lugs we're used to. I've grown up with the modern lugs, which I also love, but I have to say, these new lugs have a great appeal to me. They're dressier, in my opinion. Also of interest is that most special editions for 2014 honor the 1964 Self-Dater and also have many of these same traits, so you can find these in a spring drive version if you'd prefer.
The 1964's crown is used here also. Grand Seiko's attempt at a very sincere homage is quite impressive--they could have used an ordinary GS crown and no one would have noticed--instead they custom made a crown just for this watch using a symbol they haven't utilized in decades.
The case back is a work of art. The famous lion emblem is used here as opposed to a sapphire case back, due of course to the use of a quartz movement. This is probably the finest of all the modern sold Grand Seiko case backs, up there with the SBGX103's gold medallion.
While I wouldn't classify the 009 or 011 as ultra-thins, they are certainly lithe, especially compared to modern standards. This is no doubt due to the use of a quartz movement (the original 1964 model was hand wound) instead of an automatic. In order to make sure everything was as new as possible, I didn't strap one on, but I would expect it to be among the most comfortable Grand Seikos out there.
The case is insanely mirror polished--here the reflections of my black light box make it all but disappear. I'm wearing my own Grand Seiko as I type this, and I'm not sure what it is, but somehow I just feel these two watches shine brighter--as if the polishing were even finer on these new models, if that's even possible.
So the quality of your typical Grand Seiko is there, which is to say perfection, but perhaps stepped up somehow--it's really the case that makes these two watches. I hope they bring out at least one or two full production models next year that keep this case style--I really like it, and it would help dress up some of their line.
You can't see the movement on these two watches, which is a real shame because the 9F82 inside is actually quite attractive. At least we're given that gorgeous case back.
The Grand Seiko 9F is arguably the most advanced movement ever made and easily in the top three quartz movements in the world. It has a whole host of high-end features that have never been replicated by any other company or even on any other Seiko.
It has a long list of features, so I'll just touch on a few. First off, in order to carry Grand Seiko's famous, yet massive, hands, a more powerful motor had to be used. Unfortunately, more powerful motors drained the battery faster, reducing the lifespan to under 3 years, which Seiko found unacceptable. Their ingenious solution was to use a twin pulse motor, which actually ticks twice per second, although a human eye has no hope of seeing it. Under ultra-slow motion, however, you can actually see the seconds hand stop and start half way through a second, however. This kept full sized hands, but didn't drain the battery much more than an ordinary motor. Another great advancement of the movement was an anti-lash mechanism, which prevents the hands from wobbling when they hit their mark--this gives the seconds hand a more refined movement, but it also helps ensure that Grand Seikos hit all their indices dead on. I can't say that 100% of 9F movements hit 100% of their marks, but they get really close to that number.
But the most standout feature is, of course, its 10 second per year accuracy, thanks to thermocompensation. That accuracy is further enhanced by a very easy to use fine adjustment screw which allows a watchmaker to simply turn a screw to make the watch run faster or slower, compensating for quartz drift decades later. Speaking of watchmakers, when you replace the battery in a 9F quartz, there's no chance of contaminating the crucial lubricant inside the watch with dust from outside. The cabin of the movement is sealed even during a battery change, which gives the lubricant inside an extraordinarily long life. Of course, you'd expect nothing less from the company that invented the quartz watch.
The Straps (and more?)
These straps are just amazing. I can sincerely say I've never held straps of this quality in my life. This is fairly remarkable, as Grand Seiko is known largely as a bracelet maker, offering leather on only a small number of watches. But this crocodile strap is just gorgeous.
The inside is remarkably soft. I know you'll probably write this off as simple marketing, and it's a shame that all of them will be sold so soon, because if you could just touch these, you'd be impressed. I didn't even try either of them on because the straps were just too perfect.
A buckle is used here which appears almost exactly like those used in the 1960s. Even the buckle is impressive.
I normally prefer deployants, but this buckle is just so gorgeous. I can't imagine it with anything else.
Yet, underneath your new Grand Seiko, hidden in a compartment below the watch, lies something that Grand Seiko has apparently decided not to share with the world--the watch comes with Grand Seiko's 5 link bracelet.
Naturally, I won't put the spare bracelet on a new watch without the future owner's request, so in order to show you it, I brought a stunt Seiko. The bracelet here is basically identical to the one that comes with the SBGV009 and SBGV011, Grand Seiko's famous 5 piece model. This uses their elaborate alternating polished and brushed pieces--each link is made up of 5 independent pieces, hence the name. Remarkably, each of those pieces is hand polished individually before being assembled. The effect, as you can imagine, is impressive.
Of course, like almost all Grand Seiko bracelets, screws are used instead of friction pins, and the craftsmanship is greatly appreciated. The undisclosed addition of the 5 piece bracelet accompanying the beautiful croc strap makes the SBGV009 and 011 limited editions something I didn't expect: a surprisingly good value. They're not that much more expensive than the new SBGV005 and 007, which are full production and have the bracelet, but you get a top-notch strap and buckle thrown in.
So what we've got here is two big hits as far as I'm concerned. I was thrilled with Grand Seiko's 2014 releases this year and was surprised these two didn't get quite the attention they deserved--but I was interested in them from day one. Many fans complain that there is too much text on the dial of most contemporary Grand Seikos, and like the 2010 anniversary model, this really does a good job of addressing that. So you get an ultra-clean, ultra-dressy option at a relatively low price point for a Grand Seiko.
Perhaps more directly, this is one of your only chances to own a 1964 Grand Seiko in perfect condition. It's a perfect fit for the collector that wants something utterly timeless but with cutting edge technology and perfect execution. There aren't many watches that fit that bill, and this is one of them.
And all of that with an extremely well made croc strap and 5 piece bracelet, making it surprisingly versatile for a watch this dressy.
Of course, if you want one, you'd better get one quickly. Only 1200 are being made of the silver dial and just 900 for the black dial worldwide, and this is quite probably the last chance you're going to get for a 1964 GS homage--unless you're willing to wait for the 100th anniversary in 2064.
In order to fully appreciate a Grand Seiko, you must see it in person--but the next best thing is one of our videos. Check them both out here: